When Eden Tekle decided she wanted to open her own business, it was a safe bet that she was going to make it happen. "If someone can do it, I know I can do it, too,” she says.
Tekle, a native of Eritrea, came to the U.S. in 2006 as a refugee. “They told us we were being given a great opportunity, but that it was on us to take advantage of it,” she says. She took those words to heart.
Tekle trained as a hair stylist and moved to Washington, D.C., where she began to build a following of loyal clients. After years of working for someone else, her entrepreneurial spirit began to call.
“I had a small little business back home when I was growing up,” she says. “I want a better life for me, for my children. I want them to have a good inheritance. Just working at the salon and staying in the same spot wasn’t going to be enough.” As her two young daughters started school, she sensed the timing was right. She decided to become one of the 1.1-million women business owners in the U.S., opening her own salon, Eden D.C.
That was a couple of years ago. Now, Eden D.C. is growing. Tekle has five stylists working for her and a plan to add 18 more. There’s a lot to learn when opening your own business. Here are some of the key things Tekle learned as she moved from working for someone else to opening her own doors for the first time.
START WITH FREE HELP
Tekle was starting from scratch, so she reached out to a nonprofit organization that serves people who want to start a business. “They showed me what a business really looks like and helped me understand the rules and laws that I would need to follow,” Tekle says. “I also studied what it takes to be a leader because my plan was to hire people and give them the opportunity I got from working in other salons.”
TAP YOUR NETWORK
There’s an old saying that it’s not what you know, but who you know. In addition to learning as much as she could, Tekle tapped her network for their expertise, starting with salon owners. “One of the people I used to work for was so helpful,” she says. “While she warned that it wouldn’t be an easy journey, she told me that if I had the passion, I could do it.” Tekle’s regular clients pitched in, too — one client, a real-estate broker, joined the project. Through another client, she met her attorney.
LOCATION IS KEY
Tekle did a lot of homework to find the right location. The spot she picked is in an up-and-coming area (read: affordable lease). But she made sure there were restaurants and public transportation nearby. The idea was to bring along the clientele she’d built, but to also grow new clients.
Not everything went according to plan. The first location Tekle found fell through — it cost her almost $10,000. She eventually found another place in the location she wanted. Then, when she found the new space, Tekle ran into problems with her contractors. She ended up months behind schedule, which meant she was paying a lease but had no revenue coming in.
Cash flow is a huge concern for new business owners. Luckily, Tekle was ready for setbacks. She has been working with Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Advisor Peter Shulla since shortly after coming to the U.S. During some of their first meetings, Tekle told Shulla what her goals were: she wanted to send money home to her father (which she has done), buy a house (she owns her own townhome now) and start a business.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Eden since 2010 and It has been inspiring to see how far she’s come in such a short period of time. To see someone who had almost no money when she came to the U.S. work hard and achieve the financial goals she set out for herself is incredible,” Shulla says. “She is living her dream.”
Because Tekle had put a financial plan in place, she had several options available to her when she needed cash to keep her business dream alive: savings, a retirement account and cash value life insurance. Ultimately, she was able to cover most of her expenses with money she had saved. “I managed to stay in good shape because of the knowledge and savings that I have. I always tell people that it’s so important to have savings for things now, to save for retirement and have life insurance in case something happens to you,” Tekle says. In addition to all her planning, Eden credits her success to her faith, “God is the center of my life and all the credit goes to him.”
Tekle opened the doors to Eden D.C. last May, and business has been great. Almost a year in, Tekle has paid back what she borrowed and is looking to the future. As she continues to grow her staff, she’s already set her next goal: Making memories with her daughters and building a legacy for them.